Friday, June 13, 2008

One to Watch

First: two apologies. I wrote some of this in my head while cooking my tea, and it's longer than I'd like. Also, I am minded of the story about Einstein submitting some paper to a journal only to have it rejected with comments from the anonymous reviewer which were longer than the paper itself. I am aware that I may be over-analysing here.

I'm over-analysing because some of my target for this post comes from a comment on Harry's Place by Marko Attila Hoare:

I rather hope they do, as I hope McCain will win. Last time we had a fluffy, feel-good Democrat with no serious interest in foreign policy as president of the US, it meant a whole string of international disasters (Rwanda, Srebrenica, rise of the Taliban, etc.). And the international situation is more menacing today than it was in the 1990s, particularly where Russia is concerned.

Now, I am as aware an anyone can be that comments on blogs can be dashed off and regretted for a long time. I shared my opinion about the 'rise of the Taliban' in the last post. I'd like to do two things in this: discuss what's missing from that list - the rise of al-Qaeda; and talk about Srebrenica. The latter is obviously difficult for me: I'm sure Marko knows infinitely more than I do.

However, in his Harry's Place comment, he seems to (and I may be reading him wrongly) place the 'disaster' of Srebrenica in Clinton's lap. (I do think that that is overestimating American influence no less than the supposed "anti-American" position overestimates the US in blaming it for everything. There's a Manichean God/Satan thing going on which possibly deserves a post in itself. Not today though.)

Last week, Marko put up this post: The Netherlands and the Srebrenica Massacre. Again, I grant that the content is preceded by "PRESS RELEASE" and Marko does not editorialise.

On 16 June 2008 the District Court at The Hague will hear the first civil action brought against the Dutch State by relatives of the victims of genocide at Srebrenica.

I'm sure Marko can justify this in all sorts of ways that I cannot begin to defend. It's about justice, for instance. This is a civil action brought by the bereaved, and they have every right to apportion blame and seek closure.

But ... I can't help thinking of Norman Finkelstein's claim in "The Holocaust Industry" that suits were brought against the Swiss because they were politically weak. Marko appears to be claiming that the US did nothing at all - the Dutch did intervene, and it was not enough. Their soldiers are not being charged with complicity or war crimes, just with being ineffectual. The US who were entirely absent (according to Marko), get off. Is this justice? We can't get hold of the perpetrators - and if there is one thing I have learned from Norman Geras, it's to remember who is really guilty - so we'll squeeze someone else. I know nothing of Dutch politics beyond Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Pim Fortuyn but I imagine there's a lot of political capital at stake here.

The reason this post is going to be so long is that I'd like to also analyse what I think Marko missed in his comment. As I've said, this may be over-analysing, but having read Marko's blog, I think this sort of stuff is what he thinks about day-to-day. To recap, Marko included the Taliban, who I think were funded by the US originally - and their prominence can be blamed on the CIA and the Carter, Reagan, and Bush Snr administrations, but not Clinton's. If Marko is blaming Clinton (Jan 1993- Jan 2001), he's quiet about an elusive organisation called Al-Qaeda.

I think that Decent mythology (if we can reify it as such) wants to set up Martin Amis ("It was the advent of the second plane, sharking in low over the Statue of Liberty: that was the defining moment.") as a latter day Moses. It all started then, out of the blue, like a plane growing from a dot to a fly to something you can recognise with wings and a fuselage.

It didn't, of course. For America, it started in the first month of Clinton with the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Whatever you think of Osama bin Laden and cronies, they are planners. They didn't wait for the election, see that the Democrat won and then work on a bomb plot. This had deeper roots. Can we at least blame the President for lack of vigilance? If you like, but it's going to come back when we return to the Twin Towers.

In 1998, there were the United States embassy bombings. Still Clinton, still al-Qaeda. And not long before the election which Gore lost (or "lost" depending on taste), there was the USS Cole bombing.

I mentioned my ex-partner in my previous post. I should not drag her up again, but she was born in Brooklyn and grew up on Long Island, so 9/11 will mean a lot more to her than it ever will to me. (She spent most of her life in California.) Our fiercest political argument was over Richard Clarke. She thought he was a loon; I think he's a hero. I thought (and still do) that if Gore had, er, been given the presidency (which he won - ducks flames), 9/11 would not have happened. I think this because of mostly-forgotten Craig Unger. Saudis were allowed to enter the States without the checks they had been subject to.

I think Clinton, Gore, and Clarke handled al-Qaeda and Saddam as well as they could. I can understand claims to the contrary. Marko does not make them. I wonder why.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not entirely fair to Marko, who is after all the ostensible subject. He's said himself that "it started", for him, with Kosovo; he opposed NATO's intervention amd subsequently came round to the view that imperialist intervention against regimes as evil as Milosevic's could be justified.

I remember Marko from way back & always used to think he was pretty much a Good Thing; he talked a fair bit of sense about the former Yugoslavia, at a time when a lot of the left were talking neilclark. As it happens, I personally supported the NATO intervention in Kosovo - although I subsequently came round to the view that imperialist intervention, even against regimes as evil as Milosevic's, could not be justified. That would be pretty much where Marko & I parted company.

6/13/2008 10:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's 'amd' meaning 'but', obviously.

6/13/2008 10:40:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

My view, for what it's worth, is informed by the East Timor intervention. When it occurred, I don't remember anybody asking "why aren't they bombing Djakarta?" and nor do I remember anybody trying to impose any Rambouillet-style accords on the Indonesian government allowing for the occupation of their country. They did what they were supposed to do: landed a whole load of troops in the right place, chased away the people who were killing the innocents, hung about no longer than necessary.

In the case of Kosovo this isn't what happened.

I've said before that I think some of the roots of Decency can be traced back to the Yugoslav wars: not all of them by any means, but certainly some rhetorical roots (you don't suppose intervention, so you're an apologist for dictators and genocide) as well as the specifc interest in Western intervention as a principle. I think with Marko we possibly have an extreme example of people trying to make up for mistakes they feel they made in a previous incarnation by laying into people they think resemble their former selves.

6/14/2008 08:51:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"the international situation is more menacing today than it was in the 1990s": if true, of course, this is surely more an indictment of the bush approach to international relations than an argument for its further application

6/14/2008 10:47:00 AM  
Blogger Benjamin said...

I am not sure if Marko is aware that McCain voted for the suspension of habeus corpus and for a provision that may give the green light to torture by the US.

6/14/2008 04:39:00 PM  
Blogger Sir S said...

ejh, I think you might be wrong about East Timor. It was a monumental cock-up, based on the vanity project of an ignorant PM whose own intelligence community was heavily corrupted by 30 years of appeasing Indonesian atrocities. There was never any intention to introduce troops and all warnings that they would be needed were ignored or laughed at. When the troops did go in it was by popular demand (hundreds of thousands marched through the streets of every city in Australia) and they didn't get there until most of the damage was done, since they only entered with permission from the Indonesian government.

Those troops are still there (they "hung about no longer than necessary" because they are still necessary), and they have achieved very little in terms of catching the major criminals involved, who immediately fled into Indonesian territory. Now East Timor is a basket case, and its ostensible "liberator" tried very hard to force on it an extremely unjust division of oil and gas rights (its only income). The president was nearly assassinated, the troop presence has been increased and relations with Indonesia have taken a long time to return to a level that is still worse than the pre-"intervention" levels.

Regardless of whether East Timor ever gets to become a functional nation, and regardless of whether or not any of the criminals involved ever get caught, a model intervention it was not.

6/15/2008 12:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sideways on to this topic, anyine read Hitchens latest piece in today's Mirror ? Seems like Hitchens is definitely swerving to Obama. But what a creep Hitchen's is - his comment on Bush and Iraq is a model of avoiding the issue and tring to wriggle out of responsibility. It is a gutless piece for a man who claims to have so many guts

Ann On

6/16/2008 09:44:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

just how very compromised mcain now is, on torture, habeas corpus as a universal right, etc -- probably requires more careful attention to US constitutional nittygritty than war-niks UK or US routinely choose to bother with: a good place to start some close-reading on it may be here

6/16/2008 01:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a bit wary of getting into dealing with Marko (who I have always considered part of my extended blogging family) except to follow up a little on Phil. I have fairly hazy memories of Attila, who hadn't started styling himself Marko yet, but I parted company with his mum over Croatia. Without getting into detail, I just felt Branka was on a path I didn't care to go down, much as one might understand her motives.

But yeah, there's a problem of agency here which Marko alludes to now and then. Even if the entire left had accepted Branka's position (which a lot of folks did) they didn't have the clout to achieve what she wanted. But Nato military power did...

Not of course that that stops Marko from berating those people who didn't outsource their position to his mum fifteen years ago. Grudges die hard.

6/16/2008 04:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The recommendation for McCain is not really different to the pro-Reagan US Social Democrats, the scrag-end of Shachtmanism that tried to put a very pale pink gloss on to hardline Cold War politics.

Decency has always intrigued me when it came to Yugoslavia, the way that it -- and Decency speaks in one voice on this topic -- took such a one-sided standpoint, blaming the Serbs (almost The Serbs) for all the violence and unpleasantness that took place, and exonerating everyone else. That Croats, BiH Muslims, Kosovo Albanians, etc, could also be responsible for killings and pogroms doesn't seem to occur to Decency.

What is weird is that some people on the far left -- most notably the Alliance for Workers Liberty and the now-defunct Workers Press took their cues on Yugoslavia from Decency. The latter actually hired in Attila Hoare to do their thinking on the subject.

Still, if one is obliged (as left groups indubitably are) to have a political position on nigh-on every event in world affairs, this means that one must say something even if one knows nothing about the subject, so the I guess that the AWL and WP must have come across the Decents' ideological hire-shop before they had the chance of finding one offering another viewpoint on the subject.

6/17/2008 05:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is weird is that some people on the far left -- most notably the Alliance for Workers Liberty and the now-defunct Workers Press took their cues on Yugoslavia from Decency. The latter actually hired in Attila Hoare to do their thinking on the subject.

Garbage. Attila wasn't a Decent then, for the good reason that there were no Decents at the time of the Bosnian conflict; there was a genuine divide within the Left about the rights and wrongs of the conflict, about who the British Left should support and how they should do it. Put it this way, there was nothing Decent about Workers Aid to Bosnia.

But never mind 15-year retrospect - what did you think about it at the time? Here's what I thought.

6/17/2008 09:11:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

there was a genuine divide within the Left about the rights and wrongs of the conflict, about who the British Left should support and how they should do it.

There was, but there was also - as I've argued here a fair few times - a lot of name-calling and mischaracterisation ("if you don't support action A then you're an apologist for atrocity B") which was where the Decent rhetorical approach was essentially born, antecedents-in-internal-labour-movement-conflicts notwithstanding.

It's possibly also where a lot of people finally abandoned the idea that the future of civilisation lay in the hands of the international proletariat and decided that it lay in the hands of the EU and NATO instead, or at least until France and Germany abandoned their historic role as regards the invasion of Iraq.

My general recollection (apart from seeing a large number "stop the genocide of Serbs in Croatia" stickers on lamp-posts in Oxford) is that there was a lot of using Yugoslavia as a stick to beat other leftists with, something even the Workers' Aid to Bosnia people, who did much good work, were not entirely above.

What did I think at the time? Probably in favour of the principle of secession and against Western intervention. It's not necessarily what I think now.

6/18/2008 08:47:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That wouldn't actually have been far distant from my own thinking at the time - I've revised my opinions on some important issues since. I can't remember arguing against the principle of secession back then, but that didn't stop me getting called a Chetnik for not being positively enthusiastic about the secessionist movements.

Phil's right that Decency as we know it didn't exist back then, but it was formative for some people, and Decency often uses ex-Yugoslavia as a retrospective touchstone. That also means judicious use of the Decent Tardis, for which see Nick's book.

6/18/2008 09:20:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

I still can't see that Croatia was (to use the language we probably used then) "oppressed within Yugoslavia", which isn't to say the JNA should have crossed the border, let alone shelled the fuck out of Vukovar.

6/18/2008 09:50:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"A model intervention it was not". Quite: if you look closely, few interventions are the models that their supporters claim that they are. In the case of Iraq, of course, it has made the situation infinitely worse. In some cases the result of an intervention may be a relative improvement though still leaving the situation highly unsatisfactory. And how we got into the pre-intervention situation is usually not mentioned.

I often go along Concannon Road in Brixton and remember that in the late 70s someone ran an East Timor Solidarity Group out of a bedsit in that road. Most of the pamphlets were reprints of stuff by Chomsky, who was saying what he has always said: more people are dying proportionally in East Timor than in Cambodia but it never gets in the press.

Marko gives Clinton null points for being late to intervene in the Balkans but gives him acht comma fumf for intervening in East Timor. This is a soundbite view of history, because there is no mention of why there needed to be an intervention in East Timor and no examination of the real result of the intervention. The US didn't expect the break-up of the Portuguese empire in 1974-75, it feared the possible new regimes in the various parts of the former Portuguese empire (who had been radicalised by the instrangience of Salazar and Caetano) so the US intervened back then throughout the former Portuguese empire to make life difficult for these regimes. The results were disasterous. But we're then supposed to cheer when the US intervenes again to limit the damage of the earlier interventions?

6/24/2008 10:03:00 AM  

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